Whose Idea Was the Genitive?


What is Genitive?

The Genitive is the second of four German cases.

A "case" is the function a noun has within a sentence. If words were actors, we could say the "case" is the role each word plays. The genitive shows who or what something belongs to.

The genitive question is: "Wessen?" ("Whose?")


Das ist der Bleistift der Lehrerin. - This is the teacher's pencil.

WESSEN Bleistift ist das? Der Bleistift DER LEHRERIN.
WHOSE pencil is it? - THE TEACHER's pencil.

DER LEHRERIN is genitive.

"What?" you may wonder. "But why is it "der Lehrerin"? Isn't this about a female teacher? Shouldn't it be "die Lehererin"?" Keep reading!

Genitive - Overview

In the following table you can see what different words look like in the genitive case. After that, there will be a more thorough explanation of how the genitive is formed.
 definite articleindefinite article
masculine   des dicken Seehundeseines dicken Seehundes
feminine   der netten Lehrerineiner netten Lehrerin
neutral   des dicken Bucheseines dicken Buches
plural   der dicken Seehundedicker Seehunde

How to Form the Genitive?

To know what form a noun takes, we need to know whether it is masculine, feminine, or neutral, plural, or singular. These are the criteria according to which the ending of the noun, as well as articles and adjectives that belong to this noun, change. (see next paragraph)

Wrong Example 1:

Die Arbeit die Lehrerin ist nicht einfach.
The teacher job is not easy.

WHOSE job is not easy? -> This is a clear genitive question, and "Lehrerin" (teacher) is feminine, and singular.

Usually (in the nominative singular) we say "die Lehrerin", which is feminine, but the genitive form of the definite article "die" is "der". This is not the "der" used in the nominative singular for male nouns like "der Hund" or "der Mann"!

In this case, only the article changes, while the noun stays the same:

Die Arbeit der Lehrerin ist nicht einfach.

Wrong Example 2:

Die Hingabe der Hund war herzzerreißend.
The dog devotion was heartbreaking.

WHOSE devotion was heartbreaking? Once again, this is a genitive question. The nominative is der Hund (masculine), and the genitive is des Hundes.

The right sentence looks like this:

Die Hingabe des Hundes war herzzerreißend.

The fact that we see the article "der" together with feminine nouns is due to the genitive. "Die Lehrerin" (the teacher) does not become a man, only because she owns a pencil! To find out the gender of a noun, you always need to look at the nominative case, and the nominative is still "die Lehrerin".

Other Words that Change: Articles, Adjectives, Pronouns

As you saw in the previous paragraph, all words that belong to the noun also need to change according to the case it stands in.


Die Brille meiner Lehrerin sieht aus wie ein Fernglas.
My teacher's glasses look like binoculars.

WESSEN Brille sieht aus wie ein Fernglas? Die Brille MEINER LEHRERIN
WHOSE glasses look like binoculars? - MY TEACHER's

MEINER LEHRERIN: genitive, feminine, singular

The word "MEINER" needs to go with "LEHRERIN" and also be genitive, feminine, and singular.


Die Mühen der fleißigen Lehrerinnen lohnten sich.
The hardworking teachers' efforts were worth it.

WHOSE efforts were worth it? The efforts of THE HARDWORKING TEACHERS

DER FLEISSIGEN LEHRERINNEN: genitive, feminine, plural

Now, all three words are genitive, feminine, and plural. Instead of "die fleißige Lehrerin" (nominative, feminine, singular - the "normal case") we now have to say: "der fleißigen Lehrerinnen" (Genitiv, weiblich, Mehrzahl).

Inseperable Friends

Some words are inseperable friends of the genitive and always stand next to it. If you really want to learn about the genitive, you should memorize them.

Some of the genitive's best friends:

sich (seiner Sache) sicher sein - to be sure about something
nördlich, südlich, östlich, westlich (der Grenze) - north, south, east, west (of the border)
nahe (der Schule) - near (the school)
trotz (der Kälte) - in spite of (the cold)
aufgrund (der Hitze) - because of (the heat)
während (der Schulstunde) - during (class)

Example Sentences:

Mira putzte die Küche. Währenddessen gingen wir trotz der Kälte zu Fuß einkaufen.
Mira cleaned the kitchen. In the meantime, we went shopping in spite of the cold.

Aufgrund des Schnees fällt die Schule morgen aus.
Because of the snow, there will be no school tomorrow.

Meine Tante Sarah wohnt in Holland, nahe der deutschen Grenze.
My aunt Sarah lives in Holland, near the German border.